Commentary: Bill would give cities tools they need to crack down on speed
There’s a not-so-silent killer on our streets — one responsible for 265 traffic-related deaths in Los Angeles County in 2016 alone. In Glendale, where I previously served as council member and mayor prior to the Assembly, traffic-related injuries and fatalities rose 25% in 2016. However, Glendale is not alone in this alarming trend; cities and neighborhoods across my district and throughout the Los Angeles region have seen an uptick in the overall number of traffic collisions involving other vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. The statistics are alarming, and yet for decades, cities have been powerless when it comes to combating the problem. Last month, I introduced a bill to change that.
There are many factors that go into this dangerous trend, but I believe one of the key contributors is the way the state determines and sets speed limits. They are set using a complicated methodology mandated by state law that relies upon an engineering speed survey that hinges on the 85th percentile as a “critical speed.” The “critical speed” is assumed to represent a speed that the majority of drivers are using due to familiarity with the conditions of the road and good judgment. In reality, this one-size-fits-all prescription does not provide adequate safety in modern urban environments.
Here lies the problem — just because the majority of drivers are going a certain speed does not factor in whether that speed is safe, and the rising number of serious injuries and deaths on our streets prove that. Current law and practice also collide with the direction communities across our state are taking in the changing nature of transportation. Given the evolving nature of transportation, on bicycle and foot, a comprehensive traffic methodology of education, engineering and enforcement should be the goal of traffic law.
California cities, especially in our region, are avidly looking to move beyond our dependence on cars by increasing public transit options and the systemic alternatives that inherently accompany mass transit such as biking and pedestrian options. Our state has heralded this direction, through the passage of SB 1, which provides $212.8 million for Active Transportation Grants over 10 years in the Southern California region alone. This infusion of state resources incentivizes our local municipalities to prioritize bike and pedestrian infrastructure and safety. It could not be more urgent that we address this problem now, or we will see the rate of injuries and fatalities soar even higher.
For this reason, I have proposed AB 2363, which will allow local authorities to round speed limits to within 5 miles per hour of the 85th percentile, and maintain the ability to reduce a local speed limit by an additional 5 miles per hour based on an engineering and traffic study. The bill adds a key factor to how an engineering and traffic study is conducted; the potential for, or frequency of traffic collisions resulting in deaths or injuries. This works to identify what streets need greater protection against rising speeds, in order to keep safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure a local priority.
While it will not entirely resolve the problem, AB 2363 will be an important first step to work in conjunction with the efforts cities across California have already put in place to increase pedestrian and bike safety. Cities such as Glendale and Los Angeles have already adopted plans to increase traffic safety and are working on changing their infrastructure to allow for more car-free transportation options. My bill will empower municipalities by giving them the tools and authority they need to set the speed limits that are appropriate for their plans and the actual safety requirements for their streets.
We know unequivocally that speed is a factor in determining the severity of a collision, thus we need to address speed as a key ingredient that is making our streets unsafe.
When it comes to what is a safe and appropriate speed to be driving on their streets — cities will always know best. As we move our transportation systems into the future — it’s important to not bring our current shortcomings with us.
I understand this bill will not earn the support of everyone; we have seen efforts to reduce speeds across our region met with harsh criticism and outcry. However, did you know the city of Los Angeles determined that more people in Los Angeles have died in traffic collisions than in gang-related homicides in recent years? What do we do when we have an uptick in gang-related homicides? We crack down on the root cause. The same should be done regarding traffic safety.
LAURA FRIEDMAN (D-Glendale) represents La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, Glendale, Burbank and neighboring communities in the the 43rd Assembly District.